Wanted: Next generation of forest stewards | News, Sports, Jobs

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A student in the Fire Ecology and Management class (FOR 491) learning ignition techniques while conducting prescribed burns at the Tree Research Center on MSU’s campus

ESCANABA — The Michigan State University (MSU) Department of Forestry, in partnership with the MSU Institute of Agriculture Technology (IAT) and Bay College, is accepting applicants for its new Forest Technology program – a two-year program designed to develop the next generation of forest stewards.

The Forest Technology program focuses on skills needed to be immediately employable in a wide range of forestry-related careers.

Development of this program was funded by a $749,000 Higher Education Challenge (HEC) grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

Justin Kunkle, director of undergraduate studies for MSU’s Department of Forestry and HEC project director, is leading the partnership and has facilitated curriculum development.

“The nice thing about this program is it offers what I would call multiple entry points and exit points from the program. Students would be able to exit the program after two years with a certificate and associate degree and be ready for immediate employment, or they could decide they want to complete a bachelor’s program in forestry where there will be a path to MSU or other universities,” said Kunkle.

Organizers have engaged stakeholders in the forestry industry to assist with educational content and programming identified by industry and employers. Through these new educational offerings, MSU is hoping to broaden its reach to students across the state who might have an interest in natural resources fields.

Michigan Farm Bureau Industry Relations Specialist Craig Knudson, who also serves as an Advanced Regional Manager in the Upper Peninsula, said the state’s forestry industry is in desperate need of individuals with skilled trades – something he hears on a daily basis.

“Today’s timber industry relies heavily on sophisticated technology, which requires individuals with advanced skills,” Knudson said. “One out of every 10 manufacturing jobs in Michigan is accounted for by the forest products industry. When considering direct and indirect effects of the forestry industry on the state’s economy, the total economic benefit of the forest products industry is greater than $12 billion and represents over 150,000 jobs.”

According to Knudson, there are more than 1,400 forest products manufacturing facilities in Michigan, with more than an additional 1,700 businesses related to forest products manufacturing, including logging companies, consulting foresters and wholesalers.

MSU forestry professors, MSU Extension experts, forestry industry professionals and local foresters have partnered to develop the curriculum. The MSU U.P. Forestry Innovation Center in Escanaba is providing non-timber forest product education for students, including instruction on maple syrup, Christmas trees, ginseng, as well as examples of UAV technology in forestry applications.

“Students will leave this program with a better understanding of forestry, forest systems and the implications of good and bad management regimens on the entire system. They will understand the economic opportunities that exist across a broader range than just traditional forest harvesting, and the increasing adoption and use of advanced technology in forestry,” said Jesse Randall, Director of the UP Forestry Innovation Center.

The Forest Technology program, offered at Bay College in Escanaba, blends online and in-person classroom work with extensive applied lab and field experiences in tree identification, conducting forest inventories, wildland firefighting, Global Positioning Systems (GPS)/Geographic Information Systems (GIS), applications of drone technology, field trips to area forestry institutions and businesses and a paid professional internship with a local forestry employer.

“Bay (College) is thrilled to again partner with MSU and the Ag Tech program to expand educational opportunities for Forest Technology in the UP. We have strong industry partners in this region, and this program offers a great opportunity to bring world class education to the field,” said Amy Reddinger, Dean of Arts and Sciences at Bay College.

In addition to the specialized MSU Forest Technology certificate, students will receive an Associate of Applied Science Degree from Bay College, an Institute of Agricultural Technology community college


Upon completion of the two-year program, graduates can immediately enter the workforce or seamlessly enroll in the MSU Department of Forestry’s bachelor’s degree program.

Michigan has about 20 million acres of forest, covering about 53% of the state and these forests support 100,000 jobs which annually adds $20 billion to the state economy ($500+ billion GDP). There is a tremendous need for educated foresters to manage these spaces and to actively engage in the well-being of the environment.

“It is a known fact that the IAT program has fulfilled a critical educational and workforce need in the State of Michigan for many, many years. Providing practical education, relevant skill development and applied experiences have been the cornerstone of the IAT program for decades,” said Dorcia Chaison, Interim Director of the IAT.

“With the addition of the Forest Technology program at Bay College, IAT is poised to not only expand educational services to constituents in that area of the state, the program will shrink alignment between worker or program participant skills, salaries and wages and fulfillment of critical industry need for a more skilled worker in the field of forestry,” said Chaison.

Learn more about the program at https://www.canr.msu.edu/iat/forest-technology.

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